Arrivals and discoveries! In the last two days we have had 8 little Maran chicks hatch, with one egg still to go.
Their mother was so desperate to sit that we had to give up hooshing her out of the nesting box several times a day, even when there were no eggs to sit on. Now she is a fulfilled and very happy clucker!
The little chooks are also very happy and hungry
The other discovery, which is truly amazing, is that we have at least two feral honey bee colonies in the roof space of the caravan.
And at the diagonally opposite corner of the caravan, also in the roof space, is another colony
There was also some activity around a third grill, although it is possible this is an alternative entrance to one of the other hives.
The discovery is wonderful as there are very few feral colonies left in the country and almost none in this area. We noticed honeybee activity around the caravan when we visited before buying the property last summer, but the then owners had no knowledge of any other beekeepers in the area, or where the colony might be living. Now we have two colonies on our own land!
When we were in Stapleton, a few miles from here, our own bees had a very difficult time. Over the last four years no colony has survived more than around 14-18 months. We have had perhaps 2lb of honey from around 7 colonies over the years. We put this down to a mixture of the atrocious spring and summer conditions in this part of England, and also the poor forage available to bees in our ‘improved’ farming countryside. There is very little clover, no wild flowers in the fields or meadows, and the trees are principally oak and beech (which are not particularly useful to bees), and the hedges willows and hawthorn (early flowering). There was one horse chestnut in the area, on which they thrived while it was in flower. Otherwise there was almost nothing for them through the summer. And that in the heart of the English countryside.
Last year we came out of the winter with one live colony. The second, which went into the winter very healthy, died around February for reasons we have not discovered and was then robbed by its neighbour. The surviving colony became queenless in the spring and so was doomed. A friend gave us another colony in early summer and that began to thrive. Happily, it swarmed. Although we missed the main swarm, which ended up high in a tree a mile away (it did not appear to survive the cold, wet summer), we managed to catch one of the smaller ‘cast’ swarms.
The colony remaining in the hive continued to do well, but then, towards late summer, suddenly disappeared, leaving a few hundred bees. Their stores were empty. What had happened? We were shocked. Another mysterious death.
We nursed the tiny cast swarm through the late summer and autumn, feeding them syrup as the weather was so bad and they were quite weak in numbers. But they entered the winter with a very good stock of supplies.
However, disaster struck while moving house. The hive survived one journey in the trailer, as we moved to temporary accommodation. But the second move in late November to Greenholme proved too much. The vibrations travelling over very uneven roads caused the top-bar frames to collapse into the hive, breaking the heavy combs, opening up the spaces between the bars to predators, and disrupting the bee cluster. Not that we discovered this until February when we opened up the hive in warm weather to see how they were getting on. Then we found the awful truth. All the bees were dead, and so were two mice that had nested in the hive.
So now we have two empty top bar hives awaiting any passing swarm. There are two other beekeepers not far from us, one around 3 miles, the other 3.5 miles, so it is possible the feral colonies originated with one of these. Anyway, the fact they have clearly survived at least one winter on their own is excellent news.
It may even be possible that one of them would throw a swarm this year. If so, we very much hope they will be tempted to take up residence in the ready-made homes that are our hives. We’ll have to wait and see…