Our empire expands and I see beautiful wild comb up a tree

When I walked into the apiary, Albert said to me “I hear you’ve gone commercial”. He pointed past his shoulder, where a row of three new hives had been set up next to our existing three, all six neatly labelled “Emily and Emma”. Emma had been busy!

Our new empire consists of the first six hives you see on the left. The newer hives are obvious as they are all light and unstained. Emma said some of our bees came out to check ’em out, plus a queen bumblebee was nosing around! She’s blogged about her hard work at ‘A string of warm days and daffodils‘, accompanied by some beautiful cheery photos of the apiary and daffodils.

Our new empire

Our new empire

We are now ready to do our comb changes. I must remember to mark our new frames with the month and date, plus 1-10 so that we know which order they started off in. This makes it harder to put them back in the wrong order when inspecting. Must also remember to, er, make them. Kinda haven’t done that yet.

During tea and cake chatting I met a very enthusiastic new beekeeper. He had only just visited the apiary for the first time, but had already joined the association, bought a smoker and bought a bee suit. He also plans to get two to three hives soon! I was a bit worried that he’s rushing into things too quickly, but he said his grandfather was a beekeeper so perhaps he’s picked up a few tips from him.

“Who’s happy being up a ladder?” asked John Chapple. Tom volunteered himself; the reason was that our Chairman Clare Vernon has a neighbour with bees living in their tree. The house is currently being done up and the neighbour may not be happy to move back in with the bees still there. The most amazing thing is that these bees aren’t nesting in a hole but just in comb hanging from the tree.

Tom, Clare, Albert and I went to have a look so that Tom could make plans to remove the bees. On the concrete path leading up to the garden were some unmoving bees, which probably landed there and then got too cold to fly off again. They were the darkest honeybees I’ve ever seen, black in every single abdomen segment. I placed two dead ones in my pocket to study at home. 

When we got inside the garden (the builders let us in) I gasped when I saw the comb up the tree at the end. It was magnificent, seven combs graduated in size hanging high up. The end comb was marked brown so had obviously contained brood at some point. They arrived as a swarm last summer; Clare said that when the colony was at its largest the comb was completely hidden and she could just see a ball of bees in the tree.  There were a few bees entering the comb but not many, so Tom thought maybe it’s just being robbed out now – that would be sad if such a hardy colony has died out.

Combs in tree

Combs in tree

On our way out I picked up a black bee which was moving slightly on the concrete path and blew hot air on her. She soon perked up and began walking around on my hand. I left her on a plant. When I got home I removed the two dead bees from my pocket, only to find to my horror that they had come alive again in the warmth. Sadly one had stung my coat and had her sting hanging out, while the other had two damaged legs. I had to put them out of their misery – I won’t assume that unmoving bees are dead again. Poor wee things. 

bee colony in tree

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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38 Responses to Our empire expands and I see beautiful wild comb up a tree

  1. athenasbees says:

    Emily, hello from New Hampshire USA. Magnificent comb and photo! Thank you for your efforts here. They are such a delight to read. I’m in my sixth year beekeeping with three apiaries and thirteen hives and feel I have so much catching up to do reading all you’ve done in just three years! Thanks also for an opportunity to dig out my Mother’s old cook book for a tea cakes recipe. For now on, my beekeeping must include a spot of tea, obviously the magic ingredient for all good beekeeping practices.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Athena, thank you that is very kind of you. But with thirteen hives I’m sure you can’t learn anything from me! Tea cakes and tea is definitely essential for recharging after beekeeping.

      Like

  2. Grower says:

    That free-hanging hive is amazing!

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  3. That is a good lesson, Emily. An unmoving bee may not be dead. I wish your bees a healthy, productive year. You too!!!

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  4. Congratulations on the expansion! Emily, I see the hives are left unpainted…is that customary in the UK?

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  5. I never knew that bees would make comb out in the open air. It does not seem the best idea to be so unprotected, I can’t see them surviving a normal UK winter. Are there many different colours and varieties of honey bees in the UK, I remember you talking about the yellow Italian ones someone has in your apiary? Did honey bees once live wild in the forests in the UK?

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    • Emily Heath says:

      It may be that they couldn’t find a better site, hollow trees are in short supply. The tree is south facing. This winter has been unusually mild, although there were some strong gales which the comb withstood well.

      I’m not sure how long honey bees have lived in the UK, but certainly they’ve been here a long time. They would have been kept by monks and villagers as well as living wild in woods and forests, as a few still do now. The original British subspecies of Apis Mellifera were said to be very dark. So many different subspecies have been imported from all around the world in recent times that I suspect most honeybees are mongrels, except when beekeepers buy queens direct from specialist breeders.

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  6. Gary Fawcett says:

    Wow that is amazing that it survived the winter in that location.

    I had a similar thing happen to me with suspected dead Bees coming back to life, it must be a survival method. I once brought some bees in that looked dead on the ground to photograph and with the light of the camera, these little zombie bees came back to life.

    I took them outside and they flew off, hopefully to their own hives after a near death experience in the wild.

    See ya…Gary

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  7. Wow, that comb is impressive. When we first started with bees, it was suggested that we get at least 2 hives to have something to compare and to not have ” all our eggs in one basket” if we had trouble. Good luck with the Empire!

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  8. disperser says:

    Shiny! . . . and hopefully you know what that means.

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  9. Pingback: A string of warm days and daffodils | Miss Apis Mellifera

  10. Sounds like the bee adventures only just got started after tea this weekend! Love the pics of comb in the tree 🙂

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  11. deweysanchez says:

    Wow.. That free hanging hive is amazing but please don’t leave us hanging. Was the colony transferred to a hive, was it still viable? I must know 🙂

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Well, I don’t know myself. It depends on whether the owner of the house depends to go ahead with having it removed, then Thomas can go round with a ladder. All will be revealed in time 🙂

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  12. fascinating pictures!

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    • Emily Heath says:

      It was quite a sight to see, a rare and gorgeous thing.

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      • alderandash says:

        That made me laugh…Shiny indeed. Ah, I miss Firefly! But seriously – wonderful pictures, really interesting to see how the bees make their comb in the wild, as it were. I used to live in Thailand and there you’d sometimes see a thin rope latter disappearing up high into the canopy of a huge tree – usually a sign that there was a hive far above you, where the bees were nesting out in the open. But they were always very, very high up, so all I could see from the ground was just a dark smudge, really. Lovely to see the hive up close like this.

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  13. Jonathan Harding says:

    Wonderful combs, a really exciting work of art. When full those combs could have been suspending 20 or so pounds of warm honey and brood above our heads,in high winds, all glued on to the swaying branch with wax…
    Up and safety clipped to a well secured ladder, cutting the combs off into a cardboard box,, is where I would use my puffing-a-large-cigar hands-free technique !!!
    If the box is then left on a stepladder immediately under the original position,if they are queenright,, all the bees should return that night and could be moved to another site.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      I often see photos of European beekeepers puffing a large cigar as a smoker! That’s a good tip about leaving the box on the stepladder. Tom is planning to cut the combs out and fix them into hollow frames if there are any bees left to save.

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  14. cindy knoke says:

    So fascinating & beautiful!
    We just had two swarm attacks here. One man died and another person received over 1000 stings. I think it’s the Africanized. I had a swarm last year, part like the Red Sea around me. I was thrilled out of my gourd and didn’t have time to be think. I just stood still. Mesmerized~

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    • Emily Heath says:

      That’s very sad about the attacks. The odd thing is that swarming bees are usually very gentle – they have no nest to defend and they’ve filled up with honey, so it’s more difficult for them to sting. The Africanized bees must think differently.

      What an experience to be surrounded by a nice swarm though, very jealous! Where were you?

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  15. cindy knoke says:

    Sorry, omit the be. Also, the swarm make quite a din! They sounded like a low flying old bi-plane!

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  16. That wild comb is an astonishing sight! Not a thing one comes across every day…. RH

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