Sunday, May 12, 2013

SOS "Essaim" times three

Well, my friends,  I have talked about our nest of bees that we have reason to believe has been functioning on this little property for the last twenty years.

  It is housed at the base of an olive tree behind our house.  There is a narrow strip of "no man's land" up above that goes with the property.  Once in a while we have a gardner up there to cut back the overgrowth but otherwise no one goes up there and no one ever bothers the hive. 

Once a year the wild bees outgrow the premises and the residents make a collective decision to go elsewhere.  They take along a newly hatched queen and set off for another location. This is called a swarm or "Essaim" in French. 

 The bees land on a nearby tree until they find a new place. Usually they are gone within the day.  This year there was not just one, but three separated swarms who left the olive tree.   The second one was hanging in our "Fausse Poivre" for three days when the third one arrived. 

It was then that I went to the www.  I read that a hive will actually settle in a tree and start adding comb when it can't find another location.  Once it has started producing young and filling honey comb, the scouts stop looking and will defend the new home even if it is just a bunch of bees hanging from a branch.   It will then be harder to re-house.  Yipes.

After reading this, I went online to SOS Essaim ( swarm) which has a list of all of the "apiculteurs" in France.  They will come and rescue your bee colony.  Out of a list of nine or ten beekeepers in the Nice area,  I chose Basile Ferran 06 31 83 56 08 who came right away with his able assistant. 

Basile is located in Bellet right next to the famous Bellet vineyards  ( my friend Jeanne's got a write- up about Bellet.)   and has about 30 working hives.  In summer he takes the hives up to the Mercantour to the farm of his parents.      

Half size commercial bee box

After donning bee bonnets and gear, the two beekeepers easily got the first swarm down by getting up on the roof,  clipping the branch and easing it into the provisional hive they had brought.  

Loading the smoker

 But the second swarm had surrounded quite a large limb and was much higher up in the pepper tree.  

Basile Ferran, beekeeper

But no worries, Basile then "climbed out on a limb" and with the help of our saw blade fixed to a long pole,  he and his helper were able to carefully cut the large branch while grabbing hold of  the other end as it was eased down.   

Beekeepers let bees descend slowly into bee box on roof.

By using a smoker ( the bees are less likely to sting when there is a fire alarm) the swarm was placed over the new box until some of them settled down into it.  

When Basile was pretty sure the queen was inside, he kept smoking the hive and ever-so-gently brushed the rest of the bees on the limb into the hive and put on the lid.  The two small swarms were put into the same box.  One of the queens will battle the other for supremacy and one will remain alive to breed.

The job took about an hour and then the two able beekeepers were gone. But the hive remained until dusk when all good little bees would be safely tucked inside for the night. 

 At 9 pm,  Monsieur Ferran re-appeared,  eased down the door of the hive,  fetched it down the ladder and off he went. The new colony will stay in the small box for about a month or two until they have had a chance to build out the comb and start broods .  Then all the frames and bees will be transferred into a standard double hive.

Mr Ferran tells us that he collects about 7-8 swarms a year... that the dreaded mite disease called Varroa is not prevalent in our area and that here the bees are not extensively commercialized like in the USA (which has resulted in 50 % loss of the bee population) . Apiculture here in the cote d'Azur seems to be in pretty stable condition for now.  

 In addition, I am happy to report that unlike the U.S., last week the European Union took the major step of a two year ban on neonicotinoid class pesticides.   Many scientists think these pesticides are major factors behind the alarming rate of colony collapse .  The USDA has yet to act accordingly.    

For the end of our saga, we were delighted to meet a real professional and his beautiful Spanish assistant,  although I am sorry I didn't catch her name. ( I didn't want to impede their important job so lets just say that I was only half as nosy as usual. )
But with luck we will see them again next year.  

 Today I can hear the rest of the bees still lively in their "ruche".   In our little patch,  at least, pollination continues.    Ironically I am writing this on the day that the carbon dioxide level on earth has been reported to have passed the long feared milestone.   

Well,  here's to the bees, their keepers and life!   Waiter, more champagne! 

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