Weatherwatch: Paul Brown

Paul Brown: The warm sunshine of last weekend set off the first swarm of the year from a neighbour's chimney

There are shortages of honeybees elsewhere but not in our street. Rows of capped Victorian chimneys with air bricks have provided wonderful hive space.

The warm sunshine of last weekend set off the first swarm of the year from a neighbour's chimney. My wife remembered buying local honey at the farmers' market with a telephone number on the jar, and called the beekeeper. He was delighted to collect the swarm, partly because he had an empty hive, but he also quoted this ancient country saying: "A swarm in May, worth a load of hay,/ A swarm in June, a silver spoon,/ A swarm in July, let them fly".

He reasoned that a load of hay was worth a lot in mediaeval times. A swarm so early in the year would have time to build a valuable supply of honey for harvesting in the autumn, whereas a July swarm would barely be able to store the 30lb or so of honey required to keep the hive going through the winter.

Those still with open fires spent some time that day lighting paper in their grates to warn off scout bees from the swarm from choosing another chimney for a home.

The swarm finally settled in a garden hedge for the night. As dusk fell the beekeeper expertly calmed the bees with smoke before scooping them into a cardboard box. He transported the estimated 20,000 bees huddled round the queen to the prepared hive, promising a jar of honey in the autumn.


Paul Brown

The GuardianTramp

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