A Buzz In The Air

A couple of days ago there was a real buzz in the air at the hospice… literally! I was busy weeding outside a patient’s room when Anne, one of the wonderful volunteer gardeners, shouted out “Look, a swarm of bees!” I looked up and there they were, thousands of them just over my head. I have never seen a swarm like this before, so was somewhat taken aback. They slowly moved past us, and I followed from a safe distance. After a few minutes they decided to stop and rest in a conifer tree by one of our ponds. Here they are…

It was an amazing sight, one which several patients and staff came out to have a look at. There was definitely a buzz in the air.

The reason for bees to swarm is twofold. Firstly, to create more space. Like us, they need room to live in and to store their honey and pollen. In spring and summer the colony size can expand rapidly resulting in a shortage of space. When the colony grows beyond the capacity of its home a decision is made to swarm. Future queens are prepared in “queen cups”. But before any of the new queens hatch, the old queen leaves the hive with about half of the worker bees, in search of a new home. Back in the hive, a new queen hatches and quickly devours any other potential new queen larvae. The remaining worker bees then see her as their new queen. There are now two colonies, each about half the size of the original. The second reason to swarm is to reproduce and increase the number of colonies. There is an excellent account of the mechanics of bees swarming at perfectbee.com

I was not sure if there was any danger in being so close to a swarm. Apparently there isn’t. Before they leave the hive the bees stuff themselves on honey for the energy. This makes them very docile and highly unlikely to sting you. It is an exciting spectacle to watch, but slightly disheartening for the beekeeper who has just lost half of their collection!

When I left work on Monday the bees were still hanging out in the tree. They generally rest for a few hours, or potententially a day or two, whilst scouts go out looking for a permanent new home. I hope that they found one quickly, because yesterday Storm Francis had arrived with all of its wind and rain.

The wildlife on Monday was pretty good. Before the bees I had already heard a commotion with a buzzard. I heard one nearby and then saw it flying low overhead with some prey in its talons. A few seconds later there was more screaching and the buzzard was seen being chased away, empty handed, by some magpies.

Then in the afternoon I saw some beautiful tortoiseshell butterflies on the verbena. They reminded me of the “painted ladies” that we had so many of last year. This year I haven’t seen a single one. Here’s the tortoiseshell…

It is so pleasing to see the wildlife in and around the gardens and it means so much to the patients and their families. I hope to continue to develop the gardens to attract more species in.

I’m off camping now for the Bank Holiday weekend. No doubt it’ll rain!

Till next time… take care. X