Sunday, January 26, 2014

The six-footed ladies of Camberwell

We've had our bees here in the Lalorium since August 2012. This is long enough for me to have become smitten with them, very pleased with their pollinating, wax-secreting, honey-making ways, and kind of proud of my own bad-asserybottomery in hanging out on a regular basis with tens of thousands of stinging (if usually gentle) insects. It's not so long, though, that I don't still have a lot to learn about ye olde apiculture.

In quest of apicultural learnings, then, we tagged along this morning with friendly bee-meister W. W was removing a youngish hive from above the front door of some peops in Camberwell. These peops included two grown-ups, two small children, a guinea pig, and a dachshund with a fondness for eating bees, and consequently a habit of getting stung somewhere between his muzzle and his houndly equivalent of a uvula. The dachshund was gnawing at a very wet dead bee when we arrived, which was evidence (in case we needed it) that the hive above the front door and the family behind the front door had certain problematic incompatibilities. (And/or that they were perfectly compatible insofar as the dog was providing a free dead bee clean-up service and gleaning his own protein to boot.)

The bees were living in a portico, their entrance a tiny fissure between the portico's masonry cladding and the brick wall of the house proper. Our bee-meister had a cunning plan, which effectively amounted to standing on a ladder, jimmying away the beading that held up the portico's thin (gyprock?) ceiling. When the ceiling fell on cue, it was to reveal this warm beautiful bundle of bee energy.

There were thousands and thousands of bees here, clinging together to conserve warmth for their babies - little pupae tucked into the white waxy cells.

The bees were very, amazingly, gentle with us. Bee-meister W sliced each piece of comb from the wood it was anchored to, and passed it down to one of us. We fitted the pieces of comb into frames, which had been prepared earlier with a hammock of elastic bands to support the comb pieces. The comb had to be fitted so that it was the same way up as it had been in the hive.

The cells capped with orange are full of larvae; the pale capped cells in the top righthand corner of the frame, and on the leftmost piece of comb in the frame, contain honey.

Most of the bees moved with their brood and honey stores into the box, but a few stragglers stayed, confused, in the former location of their hive. We tried brushing these into a dustpan and plonking them in their new box. When that failed, we turned to the smoker, which had been puffing away in a corner, unused, for the main part of the operation. Some of the bees still clung to home, or failed to find the box. These bees will die, sadly, as the hive that warms them at night has been taken away to greener, less Camberwelly, portico-y pastures.

The operation wasn't without casualties (not only these stragglers, but the bee who impaled herself on my glove, and some of the brood who were injured as we cut the comb to fit the frames), but it was vastly less brutal than the gassing of the pest-exterminator, and spared the house people the horror of several kilos of dead bees rotting in their own syrup above their front door.

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