mardi 13 mai 2014

The Bee Files

We started keeping bees when we lived in the UK about 30 years ago. It was something I had always wanted to do and at the time we had a big garden sheltered by the dreaded Leylandii trees and a disused railway embankment. I read all I could about beekeeping, bought a couple of books and ordered a colony ready hived from a bee far in Gloucestershire, before I had even finished the first book. So we kept bees happily and kept neighbours sweet with honey gifts for five years or so until we decided to move to France to retire. Of course some of the bees had to come with us..... We contacted DEFRA in the UK responsible for giving me a permit to take a hive of bees out of the country. They were inspected by a beekeeping expert, health checked a d given a 'passport'. At no time was entry into France considered and the only advice the 'expert' gave me was not to say anything about them unless asked at the ferry!! This we did and as usual we passed straight through customs in Le Havre!! It is a ten hour drive minimum in a fast car with few stops to reach our destination in the southern most tip of France, however we were traveling in an old Land Rover with a heavy trailer, and intending to make an overnight stop somewhere in a motorway Aire. This is a long time for bees to be shut in to a hive. We had put an open travel screen on to op the brood box, and had taken off the two supers of honey we were taking with us, they were wrapped up in the trailer. The colony was a large one and we made frequent stops to check on the bees, giving them the maximum air possible. We had a sugar syrup spray made up and each time we stopped we sprayed them lightly with this, to keep them busy and calm. When we made the overnight stop at an Aire, a parking area on the motorway, we opened the back of the trailer while we prepared the inevitable pot of english tea and some sandwiches!! When we had stopped for lunch earlier in the day we opened the trailer again, it did not take long fir the bees to attract some 'friends', after only about ten minutes we had a small gathering of about twenty or so local bees, attracted by the pheromones being sent out by our bees who were probably quite stressed. Anyway, the journey down took us about 20 hours. When we arrived we off loaded the hive first onto its stand we gad prepared on our previous visit. We sprayed them and left them to settle for a couple of hours, then took off the entrance block and put on a roof. We stood back to watch as they could well have been angry, but no, a few at a time the bees came out, making quick flights to orient themselves and back to the hive. Our beekeeping record in France was not so good, the hive thrived and for two years we kept two or three hives. Then collapse, the bees disappeared almost over night. I did everything I could to research this and in our area things are difficult because at that time the vignerons sprayed a lot of nasty stuff on and around their vines, and a new radio and telephone mast has also been installed on a hilltop in view of my hives. So the collapse could have been due to a number of things. So we cleaned out our hives and stacked them all up next to the dog kennel. Occasionally we had scout bees investigating and once we caught a swarm but they did not stay. Several times in the next few years we were asked to collect swarms from trees and between window shutters, but while the collections were successful the bees never stayed, so the hives sat there redundant except for ants and moths, for 10 years. Last Friday we were sitting outside eating a very late lunch with friends when one of them commented on the large amount of 'flies' overhead.........they were not flies, they were swarming bees! Our friends wanted to dive for cover. Ut we persuaded them to sit and watch as swarming bees are too full of honey with too much on their mind to sting. So we watched as other bees joined them and the noise increased, and then they started to quieten down and the cloud of beesabove our heads began to disperse. We encouraged everyone to try to keep an eye on them to see where they went. That was easy because they didn't go far, straight to the pile of hive boxes and in through a gap between two old honey collecting 'supers' . All was quiet. Our guests were pleased because the imagined threat was gone, we were pleased because we had a small colony of bees hived with no cost or work. The only one not pleased was Frida, our old rescued hunting dog, who was sat in her kennel right next to the new residents, giving us 'the look'!! Four days later the bees are still with us, so it looks like we are beekeepers again!

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