Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The Bee Project: Thoughts about keeping bees...........

The Bee Project

Our history with keeping bees,
and my thoughts about what our future direction should be.... 

2013: June 29th: .

.... and the bees had already swarmed...

" Five days later and they were at it again, the first signs being a bunch of them flying around the front of the hive, not seeming to do anything other than hanging around. As the day moved on more bees gathered outside the hive, and as their numbers increased so did their energy, until the air became full of their loud buzzing. Gradually they started flying faster and faster, moving away from the front of the hive to fill the air for quite some distance in front of it.

So what did I do? 
I stood in the middle of them as they flew around me. No need for the protection of a bee suit because they were too busy going through the swarming process to be bothered with me. I was calm and posed no threat, but from time to time a bee would pause in its flight, stop in front of me, and take a look, just to make sure.

But the day was getting on, and I had lunch to prepare. By the time I was finished the bees were beginning to settle together on the lower branches of a nearby tree, and were starting to bunch up. Only a few bees still flying around. 

So I parked myself on a chair near to the swarm, put an umbrella up to shield myself from the sun, and watched. It was absolutely fascinating to watch the swarm tighten up into a ball of bees, and they reached a point when they seemed to quieten, so I said to them,
"If you would like to stay here you will be more than welcome, but if you want to go somewhere else, then that is OK as well". What I meant was that if the swarm stayed on the tree then they would be put into a hive, but if they wanted to go somewhere else then that was alright as well. Giving them a choice is what I was doing.

They went.

I didn't see them go because I was busy elsewhere, but when I saw them gone, I looked up into the sky and wished them bon voyage. It was like sending a grown up child out into the world. 
And it came into my mind, that although we are not exactly the most efficient of bee keepers at the moment because we are not managing the hives well enough to get a honey harvest, (when bees swarm they take the stored honey with them), we are doing our bit towards helping the declining bee population by having a hive which is sufficiently healthy enough to act as a production line for swarms. "


2006: Back in the UK.....

So what do you do if you want to keep bees, but can't do that because you are not living in the right place to do so. Well you buy lots of books about bees, and enrol in a local bee keeping class, that is what you do. 

2008: And now in France....

And then you eventually move to the smallholding, and you do manage to find some bee hives, and you do purchase some bees, and then later on some more bees, and another couple of hives because the first ones were old and rotted, and you speak to a man in a bee shop who sells you a swarm of bees because all the bees you have so far have not survived, so you don't have to purchase another bunch of bees in the post, and that swarm does survive, but then gets eaten by Asian hornets, but not before your efforts to capture a secondary swarm from that hive results in you running off down the nearby lane in an effort to escape the fury of a bunch of bees who did now want to be caught despite you wearing a bee suit which actually let them get inside with you, so then you sort of give up trying to be bee keepers, at least for the time being.

So that is where we are at in regards to keeping bees. And I have to say that of all the animals we have here, the bees might have been the smallest but were the most complicated to look after, but I still have a fondness for them, and am not put off by the difficult attitudes they sometimes display. They are being themselves, that's all.


So, thoughts about keeping bees 

I think a lot was against us when we tried to keep bees.

- First of all we were in a foreign country, and did not have the support structure which we would have done if we have been keeping bees in the UK. Here in France they do not seem to have bee keeping associations which you can go along to to get help and advice, which I think you need when you start keeping bees, although I have noticed that there is more help online nowadays. (2019)

- Second, a lot of other things were happening at the time we kept bees so we were not as attentive to their welfare as we perhaps could have been, this was particularly relevant to the attacks on the hives by Asian hornets. They are a big problem in our area, as is the spraying of chemicals on crops by the farmers, although there has been tighter control of which chemicals are used since we have lived in France. The Asian hornets are less easy to control.

- Thirdly, as I have said, we did not have the time to pay attention to them enough so we could understand their needs.

If you would like to keep bees, then find other bee keepers who will help you in the early stages. Better still, search out a local bee keeping association who will hold training courses to help get you started, plus you will be able to meet other people who are also new to bee keeping.

We bought our first swarm through the post, but I am not sure if that is the best way to start. By the time the package arrived the bees were already irritated with being kept in transit, plus the queen had died.

With our minimal use of the French language at that time, it was impossible for us to contact the seller to get a new queen, but we finally managed to buy a replacement queen from a beekeeper in the UK, who shipped her out to us. But I think it was too late by then for the swarm to settle happily into the hive with her, and within a few weeks all the bees had died.

Our preferred option would be to buy a swarm direct, and this we did. We had found a shop selling bees and equipment a half an hour drive away, which was good. What was not quite so good was the fact that the beekeeper asked us to take the hive to him in which the bees were to be kept, so that he could put our swarm into the hive and settle them down before we brought them back to the farm. Seemed like a good plan at first, but having to drive back home with a hive full of noisy bees in the back seat of the car was, to say the least, scary. In hindsight, we should have taken our trailer down and put the hive in that for transit. We shall know to do that should there be a next time!

But problems surfaced with this swarm, the main one being that there was still no one we could ask when we were unsure of what we needed to do. But we did gain a lot experience through having this hive, including the setting up of a sister hive when the original hive swarmed. It was the Asian hornets which killed both these hives off.

All in all, keeping bees is a wonderful occupation, and I have many blogging friends who are successful in keeping this wonderful little insect, and they inspire me to not to give up the Bee Project forever. 

I am glad we tried to keep bees. I am sad that we were not successful, but I do encourage bees here at Labartere by growing as many flowers as we can, and this year we had lots of visiting bees in the garden, which makes up for us not having our own family of bees.

Bye for now,


Cro Magnon said...

I would loved to have kept Bees, but the occasion never arrived. Now we are surrounded by hives in the Chestnut woods.

Rhodesia said...

I am happy to have bees in the garden and as long as I ignore them they ignore me but one sting and I would be visiting the hospital. Thankfully it has only happened twice and a long time ago now. Hope you are well Diane

Vera said...

CEO MAGNON, your garden must be buzzing with bees! I love watching bees at their work, and could spend ages doing so!

DIANE, it sounds like you have to be very careful when around bees then! Yes, we are well, and hope you are as well, and glad that the temperatures have gone down a bit!

DUTA said...

Keeping bees sounds like a nice occupation which can also be profitable (honey selling). Working with bees could be painful and one needs protective gear which is expensive. Then there are a number of costs one should be aware of.
However, with the right patience and attitude it's possible to enjoy bee keeping and make the best of it.

Vera said...

DUTA, we never wanted to keep bees to make money out of them, but for pollinating the garden and the pleasure of watching those little creatures....they have such characters when you get to know them!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Vera, we kept bees at my parent's place for 3 years back in Old Home. I very much enjoyed them - I could spend hours just sitting in front of the hive with a beer, watching the interactions. Sadly, we could not keep them longer alive and then we moved.

I would happily keep them again, given the opportunity. Watching a hive work is amazing.

Vera said...

TOIRDHEALBHEACH BEUCAIL; I agree with you......watching bees going in and out of their hive is one of my favourite occupations, such fascinating little creatures!

Ruth said...

Some years ago we inherited two hives, all that was left after a bear had destroyed the others of my husband's brother when he died of cancer. We set them up in a large flower bed, went to a class and had a visit from a master beekeeper to see that we were doing things right. I was absolutely astounded being in their presence, hearing them and smelling the honey. I could be weeding in the garden close by, but if I'd get too near my first warning was a bee bumping into my forehead - and I'd move farther away. We harvested honey for two years, and then the bees swarmed out of one hive onto a branch high up in a willow tree. My husband shot the branch so that it fell and he was able to retrieve them back into the hive. I was heartbroken some time later when the bees started dying. The fields around us were being farmed by use of pesticide spraying several times a year. That could have been the reason, but it was also at the time when we were experiencing that "colony collapse disorder" here in the U.S. When you learn about the intricacies of what goes on in a hive, how they have their jobs to do to fight for survival, how our food depends on them, it's just miraculous! Things like that don't happen from a big bang!
I hope one day you'll again have hives to enjoy.

Vera said...

RUTH, thank you so much for taking the time to make a comment, and what a sweet comment it was too. I, too, hope that we can start keeping bees again, but not yet, and maybe you will too. Blessings to you. Vx

Tommo said...

You haven't bloggeaued for ages. Everything okay?

DUTA said...

Hi Vera,

Where are you? I miss your posts.
Hope things are well with you.

Vera said...

TOMMO & DUTA, have just posted a blog! Vx