A tale of Jeremy Fisher and a swarm of honey bees

With the weather as it is, it’s a struggle to find stuff to do. It’s too wet to garden, too wet to plant things out. I mowed on Monday, but by Tuesday it was too wet again. About the only excitement around this end is the fact we had a bee swarm form.

It was really cool watching it – it kind of hung, suspended – and grew and grew. When it got very heavy, it dropped off the branch onto the branch below.

I was worried first that they were Asian hornets – they’re an invasive, murdering species of hornet that kill honey bees, adding to the honey bee plight. I don’t know much about insects at all, I confess, and it’s all a learning curve. It says, for instance, on loads of sites, that they are easily recognisable. Not so for me. I can tell the difference between a fat little bumble bee and a wasp, but that’s about it.

Anyway, I contacted Kathryn, my fabulous friend who knows just about everything there is to know about stuff. If something’s happening around here, Kathryn knows. Her husband, Jon, is a keen beekeeper and they have a bee blog too.

She knew immediately that they were bees, even from my rubbish description of their swarming. I don’t really care except to know that bees are all good and under threat and Asian hornets are like nasty little mass murderers and if they were Asian hornets, it would be a good idea to practise some extermination to get even. I’m not sure I like meddling with Mother Nature – but since they’re an introduced species, I feel a little compelled to save the native. Plus we all know bees are under threat.

Jon was worried that they might die, since it rained really heavily yesterday and they weren’t at all sheltered. The weather must be really throwing them. Between me telling Kathryn and me talking to Jon, there were only about a third left. By early evening, there was a very small cluster left.

The few remaining bees

Today, however, there has been a real surge in activity. I think they’ve taken up life in the old chicken house. This old gatepost is rotten and holey, so it’s a fine place for a few bees, but not so for a lot of them. The chicken house is bee-friendly and with all the wildlife in our garden, it’s not a bad place, though I can’t imagine there’s much to occupy them right here. All the more reason for more flowers. I know Madame A practised the ‘functional’ garden with only fruit trees and a vegetable garden, and grass (and dandelions) but this year is definitely ‘the year of the flower’ in my garden. And now I have a reason for it – being bee friendly.

I’ve got several bee-friendly plants to get going (though none have flowered yet) and perennials are my favourites anyway – annuals, though beautiful, are such hard work – and the only annuals I grow are as companion plants for the vegetables.

We don’t garden with chemicals here. Our nettle supplement is about as chemical as we get. Manure, nettle fertiliser – that’s it. I practise companion planting and crop rotation (who said I’d remember nothing from GCSE History?!) and I always plant extra stuff in case it goes the way of the slug or the ant. Mind you, this year, I am taking no prisoners concerning the sweetcorn. The birds got to it way before we did and this year, they’re having none of it.

Of course, though, we have a perennially-flowering garden from February to October. From cherries, plums and apples through to stinging nettles, clover, poppies and thyme, we have a lot to encourage wildlife. And more will follow.

I quite like the idea of being a little wildlife sanctuary! The reason for this is simple: Mother Nature is brilliant. Today, I was filling up the chickens’ water bowl, only to see a little froggie taking his place in the water. I suspected he was trapped because it’s not easy to get out of a slippery thing, so I tipped him out and he hopped off.

Jeremy Fisher

Anyway, from tomorrow, the weather is brightening up a little. Our puits are now about a metre below where they were – the water table is dropping quickly. I’ve still a gazillion things to get planted out – broccoli, leeks, cabbage, tomatoes, aubergines. I thought I’d planted some peppers – quite clearly not. Last year, the peppers were unproductive, and I wanted loads this year, but I fear I am too late. After the remaining vegetables, it’ll be the flowers – and hopefully, by summer, we’ll have had enough of this lovely water we’ve been having so much of recently, and a lot of sun too.

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5 thoughts on “A tale of Jeremy Fisher and a swarm of honey bees

  1. What I love about living in a country is that always is something going on. Last summer we had a frog invasion in our garden as suposedly the floods killed rodents that are frogs natural enemies. We used salt to scare them away from going inside of the house. Some neighbours thougt that it was cruel. There is always something going on with the animals and the plants.

  2. Jeremy looks like a toad of some sort rather than a frog, but it is always a good sign if you have amphibians in the garden. I’m glad you got to rescue him.

    The Asian hornet seems to mainly be a problem for private beekeepers than for commercial apiarists. I get really fed up with the sites that say they are easy to recognise too, because I am sure that all sorts of innocent large wasps are being slaughtered by people who genuinely can’t distinguish one species from another. I also get fed up by the number of sites that make them sound enormous – they are indeed a big wasp, but smaller than the native hornets. When they first arrived beekeepers were encouraged to use a simple beer trap, which was killing hundreds more honeybees than it was Asian Hornets. Fortunately better advice has finally filtered through, but very few beekeepers follow the latest advice from the Museum National de l’Histoire naturelle, as it makes them feel impotent and they can’t bear watching and not intervening when they perceive the threat to be greatest. Consequently they waste a lot of time and effort for not much result.

  3. It has been bee moving week as we too have been on the phone to Kathryn (twice). Jon has been and collected a swarm in a friends tree, but we had a lot of activity in an unused chimney cavity. Nothing can be done there, but they seemed to just pop in overnight and head off somewhere else the following day. Quite relieved as I didn’t want to have to exterminate them, but didn’t think our parents would relish sharing the spare room with them either!

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