This is the time of year when the bees swarm, repeatedly. First of all, tens of them fly hither and thither across the garden, buzzing purposefully and getting in the way. This seems to be a recce as they look for a place to form a new home or else a staging post on their way out beyond the boundaries of our garden.
Then the vanguard settle. Usually they choose a spot among the Indian laurels that form the hedge, or in the olive tree, where they are joined by hundreds more. Recently, they have ventured onto the iron pergola. This suggests they have terrible taste.
I’ve done my best to plant colourful flowers and herbs for them (and us); I’ve refrained from cutting back the overgrown Egyptian basil, which they love, to keep them happy; I make sure their water pots are regularly replenished, for bees are thirsty workers.
Now, the fruit trees are pulling out all the stops and blossoming. This is quite unexpected: being a novice at pruning, it was with much trepidation, and a Royal Horticultural Society guide in hand, that I recently drastically cut back one of the plum trees. As a result, it has gone into overdrive and produced flowers for the first time, along with a wealth of beautiful, soft, bright green leaves.
So I would say there is plentiful food for the bees. Why, then, can’t they be content and stay put?
My husband, the beekeeper, tells me that spring is the usual time for swarming to occur and it has to do with overcrowding in the hives. So maybe the phenomenon is, in a way, a sign of success. The insects are not aggressive, I hear – though, if you are caught in the middle of a swarm, you might be forgiven for losing sight of that detail.
Last week, the first bee-eaters of the year paid us a visit. They, and the swifts and swallows that were already in action above our roof, constitute one biological control on the overcrowding. It’s a delight to see these passage migrants back: lovely little jewels among the birds we see here in New Cairo.
But I hear that the main flocks are down by the Red Sea at present. Avoiding Cairo, perhaps: wise birds. With all due respect to the bees, I wish they would divert westwards.
To return to the swarms, they are bothersome to us and inclined to cause havoc whenever they pass over the hedge. A breathless security guard bangs on the gate to tell me what I already know and really can’t do anything about. I tell him we have to wait until my husband is home; the guard isn’t impressed, and retreats to his kiosk to take cover. If the bees go too far away, then our loss is someone else’s gain.
Removing the swarm means donning protective clothing, cutting a chunk out of the tree they are gathering on, popping the whole package into a box, covering it tightly, and then transporting them back upstairs to the hive or relocating them to new quarters.
I’ve just spent a morning pottering among the blossoms and preparing a raised bed for new plantings, all the while aware of a new swarm forming by the white bougainvillea in the herbaceous border. Saturday promises plenty of action…