They’re still carting ivy in.
January bees in our area should be tucked up as part of a protective ball around the queen in the hive’s brood box, keeping her warm, and telling the younger ones stories of how there used to be trees round here. But it’s been so warm these last few days that they are still out there foraging for ivy pollen, just about the only blossom out there at this time of year. You can tell by the little flashes of white on the ‘panniers’ of the incoming bees. The gardeners’ worst enemy, as they say, turns out to be the bee’s best friend.
My evolution from the rookie beekeeper, with its long catalogue of assassinations and errors, to one of relative competence has been a long and rocky one. What it boils down to in the winter is making sure that they don’t starve if you have purloined their honey, and making sure that no unwelcome visitor is sharing their hive with them. Many beekeepers just leave them be for four months after an early winter feed, but I’m writing a book about them, so that degree of involvement doesn’t quite work. I need material.
This time round, two of them gave me Christmas presents- one while I was doing a late December lawn mow, and one while I was putting in a new block of fondant into the Brexit hive. Our bees swarmed on 23rdJune 2016, so we have always called the one part of the split colony Brexit (queen: Theresa) and the other part Remain (queen: Angela). The Brexit hive is lined with the sports supplement from an old Daily Telegraph, and the Remain one with the job section of the Guardian. My bees prefer clarity in their lives.
The first bee stung me on the cheek whilst I was unloading the grass box behind the oil tank. The cricketing analogy to this happening in December would be being run out by the wicket keeper whilst walking off at the tea interval before the umpire has called ‘time’- technically permissible but way below the belt. Before this, I was beating Duncan by five stings to his seven during the course of the season, which is how we bring male competition into our little bee project. This brought the score uncomfortably close.
Then, two days later, one of Theresa’s people rose up and stung me on the hand whilst I was putting that new block of feed in. Beekeepers like to think they know when the bees are likely to sting them and therefore when to wear protective kit, and Boxing Day morning seemed right for tee shirt and no gloves. The cricketing metaphor here is probably running out your own skipper but, far worse, it brought the score to seven all, and thus denied me my first outright victory in three seasons.
I tried my best to persuade Duncan to come and look at ‘something exciting’ with the bees, so as to have a chance to earn him his eighth sting, but he was having none of it.
It’s intoxicating to think that in six weeks’ time or so, Theresa and Angela will start churning out endless brood that will eventually produce our season’s honey. This last season we had 60 pots and a ‘not disgraced’ comment in the Petersfield Beekeepers’ Association Honey Show (Liquid, medium category). Next year, world domination.
As an aside, I have to say that Remain are looking the chirpier colony right now.