Lock the gate before the horses


There was nothing to be done for the beginner’s hive. Overhead a dim sky cast a heavy gloom on the apiary and the air felt warm and close. The bees were bearded under the hive floor and Tom suspected a queen was in the cluster waiting to fly off with the swarm. “He had three queen cells in the hive last week, all sealed.” I recalled. “I suggested an artificial swarm but…” Tom, Emily and I stood in front of the hive that was once headed by Queen Chili. The colony was no longer ours, having been sold to the beginner a month ago, so we couldn’t open up and see what was happening inside. The cluster looked quite small – a cast off perhaps and the old queen flown off?


Emily had already inspected Pepper’s hive and the artificial swarm, and she confirmed that both colonies were fine. Tom was about to open Ken’s hive to check the bees. The colony had improved in strength and temper. The brood box was almost full and the bees were placid despite the humid weather.


“Have you seen Albert’s new bees?” asked Tom. Emily and I walked over to the polynuc and watched as the apiary’s most recent arrivals flew in and out of their new home. The colony was a swarm collection.


The only sign of Queen Melissa in our longest-standing colony were eggs in cells that I could barely see in the clouded daylight, and bees that were behaving contentedly queen-right. The nest had an average count of brood and stores, but with two supers above maybe the bees were focusing on the nectar flow rather than brood rearing.

The varroa board count for June was around 25 mites for Pepper’s and Melissa’s colonies (above 30 mites may be cause for concern) and, as I would expect, a lower mite drop for the artificially swarmed colony which has yet to build up as much brood. “You’re very good monitoring the mite drop each month,” said Tom. It certainly helps get a better picture of the natural peaks in the varroa cycle throughout the year.


The afternoon was still and quiet. The Ealing Beekeepers were away at the association’s summer barbeque. Tom was heading off to inspect his hives at the bee hut in Perivale Wood and invited us along. It’s been a year since I was last at Perivale Wood and Andy Pedley greeted us at the gates. The bale hut was coming along nicely and people were picnicking in the field.

“Watch out for the horses!” The woodland’s community, the Selborne Society, had recently bought four new horses as part of its century-long management plan to keep the surrounding fields grazed. “They’re a bit skittish,” explained Andy, “Make sure you give them a wide berth and close the gates behind you.”


We arrived at the bee hut without disturbing any grazing horses and put on our bee suits. The bee hut is a large shed with four hives inside and entrances on the outside for the bees to come and go.



From swarming bees to swarming ants, Tom revealed a nest of ants as he lifted the first hive roof. Flying ants taking off and worker ants carrying cocooned eggs showed the full life cycle of this other order of Hymenoptera. I would have liked to remove the ant colony from the roof of my hive, but like a true naturalist Tom had observed the ants’ behaviour in previous years and was not concerned that anything needed to be done. “Last year they flew off once the flying ants had all come out.” The ants were just passing through then, like an airport terminal, and there was no need to interfere, just yet, with an event that had probably occurred in these woodland hives for years.


It was a very calm inspection with no bees flying around our veils in the bee hut. The apiary environment is different even for mine and Emily’s gentle bees. Tom explained that the bees flying in and out of the hive entrance were probably less aware of us, because we were inside the hut doing the inspection while their outside environment appeared unchanged with no beekeepers standing about.



The three of us took the scenic route back to Perivale Wood’s decorative iron-wrought gates. Andy was talking to Elsa when we rejoined him. “There was a fly survey of the woods and they identified over 100 different species of flies,” said Andy, pleased to report the findings of the woodland’s diverse ecosystem. “That explains all the flies in my kitchen!” said Elsa, who lives closeby.

At home there are fewer flies in our kitchen since the fish pond was cleaned by aquatic expert Luke during the week. The fish had enjoyed their holiday home while the pool was cleared of an accumulation of sludge and the fountain fixed. They are now happier than ever swimming around the new lilies and playing beneath the water spray.




A walk around our garden completed a day spent outdoors and my sense of wellbeing was remarkably restored after a busy chaotic week in the city. Birds sang, mason bees hung out of nesting tubes, and bumblebees dangled their legs in front of beguiling foxgloves. The clammy, drizzly start to the day had turned out, in fact, to be a perfect Saturday for a beekeeper.



27 thoughts on “Lock the gate before the horses

  1. One hundred species of flies? That’s jaw-droppingly remarkable! How can they distinguish that many and keep from doubling up? I’ve seen a few in my garden, but probably less than a dozen. (Only 88 more to go)😀
    Glad you’re feeling better.

    • Yes – I remember visiting with Elsa and Andy a couple of years ago but it was even more interesting to see an inspection. The calm environment of the indoor bees might be a good tip for any beekeeper who prefers less bees flying about during an inspection or perhaps even a way to approach livelier or feisty colonies.

  2. It was great to read how the flying ants were tolerated and accommodated by the beekeeper, this is a good example of acting in harmony with nature.

    • Indeed – Tom wouldn’t harm a wasp! A great example of harmony with nature. Also a good example, which was sort of on my mind at the time of writing the post, of being mindful of a situation but having the patience to see it unfold before taking action.

  3. What a nice day!

    I guess I’ll try not to worry about the ants in my hives. Little ones are on top of the inner cover of both of them. They grab their eggs and run whenever I open the top. Cinnamon hasn’t kept them away as I’d hoped but as long as they’re not harming the bees I’ll pretend they’re not there.

    • The ants were grabbing their eggs and running away when the roof was lifted too. Must be a strange experience to have the ‘sky’ lifted like that. I’m not recommending keeping ants with bees but every natural situation is different and in the case of the Perivale hive, it doesn’t seem yet that they’re a cause for interference. I like Tom’s approach of observance before action.

  4. Wow.. what a wonderful read Emma, and fascinated in hearing about those ants, especially as today some invaded my kitchen.. but after some clearing of cupboards and ant powder outside they have made tracks else where..
    Wonderful to read how the ants within the hives are just passing through and left alone..

    Lovely post, and your fish pond is looking good 🙂 and healthy fish. We had to powerwash ours and treat it. and put new gravel on the bottom…
    I hope your week is less stressful in the city.. and its good to have a garden to relax in.. all looking lovely . Thank you for sharing. Hugs Sue xx

    • Thanks Sue! Sorry for the late reply – my Mac has been out of order but I’m back online since this morning. Ants are definitely tenacious but these seem to be in harmony with the bees’ life cycles. How are your fish after the power wash? I’m learning ponds take as much keeping as bees. Tried feeding our fish some broccoli today, they weren’t sure at first but I’ve hear broccoli, shelled peas and brine shrimp add a nice varied diet for goldfish. Being in the garden is so much nicer than anything when you need some peace to think xx

      • I haven’t tried them with broccoli.. Hubby is usually in charge of feeding them. And he just uses pellets.. The pond is now Green like pea soup.. Sigh. the sun light.. My daughter suggested it may be too oxygenated..so we have left off the pump for a couple of days.. There are lots of oxygenating plants in there..
        And yes.. Hubby is kicking himself for messing with the substrate layer of mud.. and introducing a gravel bottom.. But too late now.. Its clearer than last week.. but not by much.. The blanket weed gone.. Just the Pea soup colour which is another form of algae 😦 and good to hear you are back online again Emma.. Thank you for your lovely reply x

      • Well if your fish are ok and swimming about happily then perhaps there’s nothing to worry about. The pond cleaner removed the substrate from our pond when he gave it a thorough scrub and it didn’t seem to effect the water much. It did go back to the colour that it was within a week but I’ve found a few things to do. I do a 50% water change every two weeks by taking 2-3 buckets of water out of the pond and putting in 2-3 clean buckets of water (the replacement clean bucket water is left standing in the garden for 24-48 hours for the chlorine to evaporate, and I add a water conditioner (1 x 25ml Pond Fresh) after it goes in the pond. I’ve started putting tea cloth over the net for more shade on very sunny days and the fish love this. They immediately swim beneath it. And I’m ordering more lilies as a couple have wilted. I’m feeding less, and keeping the fountain medium to low. Also, I have barley straw to put in the pond in case it gets very green to put in the pond (as it breaks down it absorbs algae). I’ve heard people do more like weekly maintenance but I think every other week and monthly is better, less interference for the fish in their natural environment! My dad is building a beautiful cage to o over the pond to keep the fishes safe (and the fountain which keeps getting knocked over by birds) – I can’t wait! Let’s hope for a lovely summer for all our fishes 🙂 xx

      • Great ideas here Emma.. Hubby got a new rain barrel to collect rain water that comes off the green house roof. we are going to use it for adding to the pond.. And we are doing a water change this coming week.. We added a different neutraliser which has cleared it somewhat, but like you say less interference the better, its our worst year for algae. The cage sounds a great idea.. And Enjoy your Summer.. we are.. 🙂 xxx Hugs

  5. Pingback: Lock the gate before the horses | Miss Apis Mellifera | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  6. Smashing read. Ants in a be hive?
    You might fond this a bit up your street, Emma.
    I ”discovered” a new bee in our garden this week,called an Amegilla


    I’ve been taking photos of it on and off for a season and always thought it was a hover fly. Not so!
    While it is generally a solitary bee and produces no honey it is still an important pollinator.
    I love learning new stuff!

    • Hi Anna, sorry for the late reply 🙂 I’m not sure there’s a double entrance inside the hut but not many bees flew up during the inspection. Those that did could fly out the hut door as that was open.

    • As well as the hut door being open like Emma mentioned, the windows are also tilted slightly with a gap at the top. The idea is the bees fly up towards the light during inspections and then can get out at the top and reenter the hive using their usual entrance at the outside of the hut.

      • Ah yes that’s right, a couple of bees were climbing up the window. What really struck me was how few bees were flying about during the inspection which could make a bee hut a good approach for nervous or, as there are slightly allergic, beekeepers.

  7. I like the semi-indoor apiary at Perivale, it seems to have a lot of advantages weather-wise. Do the bees not get too hot if you leave the monitoring tray in. Our floor has a metal tray and it would be too hot in the summer to leave it in for a week. Would a couple of days be enough? Amelia

    • Glad you found it interesting! I’ll ask Tom and Andy your questions about the bee hut. The pictures of Tom holding the frames are inside – it basically looks like a big shed with four hives standing with entrances by the wall. Tom says it gets hot in summer and we had the door open to inspect. I expect the shed also keeps the hives safe from the horses too!

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