12/5/2012 The old willow tree by the pond had branches like a hand with extended fingers. A few years ago the fingers started dying off one by one, until finally the remaining branch, the thumb, also died. A friend came in autumn last year to cut off the dead branch and found a colony of honey bees living inside. Luckily he hadn’t cut through their home, although they were now exposed to the elements. He put a cardboard box over the end of the stump to protect them from rain, and then it was time to wait and hope they would survive the winter.
In spring, I heard a sound like a helicopter in the garden and went to investigate. I found part of the colony was swarming, and eventually settled in several groups on the nearby buddleja. I had never seen anything like this before, and the sheer weight of the largest group nearly snapped off a branch – once the bees left, it looked decidedly worse for wear.
After this sunny day, it turned into a cold, wet spring. I don’t know what happened to this swarm but I fear it may not have survived. There were at least 2 subsequent swarms from the same colony which sadly could not keep warm and dry enough to find a new home. I hope that in a kinder year they will choose my garden again…
Note to any nervous visitors: this is the only time in my life I have observed this phenomenon in the garden and it poses no health or safety risk if a sensible distance is maintained!