Indiana Jones school of bee pursuit calls keeping skills into question

The call came while I was at lunch: "Your bees are swarming and they're at the neighbour's".

I promised my colleagues I'd be back in an hour, and drove home to sort things out. I'd dealt with two swarms already this year; how hard could it be? Shake them into my trusty dustbin, cover the top with a queen excluder so the queen stays put but the bees can get in, and Bob's your uncle!

But it wasn't quite like that. I rushed inside, suited up and took a look. The bees had set up camp on a broom bush and I could see the branch bending under their weight. Trouble was, it was in the middle of an impenetrable patch of scrub. From below, I'd have to climb a steep bank thickly covered with blackberry and broom to get to the swarm. I couldn't get through, so I tried to go in from above. Lots more blackberry, more thick broom, still no way through.

I got secateurs and tried to cut my way in from below. Blackberry and broom fell away but I gave up when I came to a gorse bush. Things were getting too prickly and I didn't want to tear my bee suit.

It was hot and I felt as if I was in a sauna, but I didn't want to take my suit off in case I suddenly found myself in the thick of things. I don't mind a sting or two, and a swarm is usually mild-mannered, but still ...

Hacking my way in from the top, still carrying my dustbin and with sweat dripping from my nose, I thought I was going to make it. I had to walk on the cut blackberry, which was fine until suddenly there was nothing under it and I nearly fell down the bank. There was no way in unless you were Indiana Jones with a machete, and I had to get back to work, so the swarm stayed where it was.

But, before I left I put out a nice empty hive, just in case the bees should find it and move in.

Back at work I worried about the bees. And the neighbours. I remembered all the swarm-catching tips from my favourite website,, where beekeepers from around New Zealand swap stories and advice. The North Islanders had been full of tricks to do with setting out swarm boxes and baiting them with lemongrass oil or bits of lemongrass ("from your garden". Ha!). They'd been posting pictures of the swarms they had lured in.

So, after work I bought some fresh lemongrass, which I used to bait the hive I'd set out.

I wish I could say it worked, but the swarm moved on, I lost a bunch of bees and the bait hive is still empty.

The rest of the bees are fine and making honey flat out, so I'm OK as a bee minder. Just not so good at keeping them.



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