Chainsaws. I find them scary contraptions but the other week, working with bees on my own for the first time in my life, redefined scary and blind panic for me. I'm not sure whether it was the hundreds of bees battering off my face screen, the panic from getting three stings on my hands (when I thought the thin BLACK gardening gloves would do - thick, white ones next time!) or the pandemonium when a bee managed to get into my suit and I dropped everything and bolted back up the road to the house tearing my gloves then bee suit off as I ran. Only to get a second wave of panic when I saw all the bees that were stuck to the outside back of my suit as my bare hands were taking it off. Calm, slow movements I'm told are best. All in all my first experience with bees has room for improvement. However, and luckily there is a however, in taking one for the team I managed to get the bees into their new hive and all appears to be well.
The move took a while to prepare. There was the procrastination over which hive to buy and then trying to find time to assemble the sections of the hive and the frames with their wax foundation, onto which the bees store their honey. Then there's the technical stuff like 'supers', 'brood boxes', 'queen boards', 'varroa mite'. So much for just bees, honey and a hive. The previous owners had left behind a full bee suit, smoker and some tools and with advice and guidance from neighbours, Tom and Dorothy, I felt was fairly well prepared. But the old hive had been left unattended for so long the top plywood board was disintegrating and the honey and comb had become so dense it was difficult to move section by section; big gloopy pieces of honey and comb covered in bees collapsing around themselves as I moved them across a space of 2.5 metres. And don't forget the bees battering off my face in the process. And then the stings. Anyway, job done.
I think I shall avoid active bee keeping as a hobby for now. Partly because I'm a big jessie and after my traumatic first experience I need a bit of time to recover. There is also a (controversial) view that active beekeeping and the associated interference of the hives is contributing to the decline in the bee population. Martha Carney recently did a very interesting programme on bee keeping on Radio 4 (Listen again - Building a Better Bee). One statistic was gobsmacking. Ninety percent of the worlds almonds come from California and the blossom is 100% pollinated by bees. So every year millions of bee hives are trucked back and forth across America for this sole purpose with consequential losses. That seems completely nuts and not a balanced system. Many bees are lost in the moves.
We love our honey and pinched a piece of comb as a taster. It was wonderfully sweet and fragrant and very tempting to take some more. However if we leave them in peace it will hopefully let them concentrate on building a bigger and strong hive and helping to pollinate West Bastlebog and the surrounding area. They are also supported by lots of other species of bees plus at least six or seven types of colourful butterfly that I've seen. It's surely no coincidence that our land, which has been farmed organically for over fifteen years and is completely chemical free is home to such a wide range of wildlife. A heartening thought even if it does mean endless weeding and topping!
While June has abuzz with bees, sheep, pigs and apples are on also the agenda. The Windshiel Farm lambs that graze our land over summer are growing and were in for a periodic health check and some selective dosing the other day. And by the next blog all ewes, hogs and tups will have been sheared. Behind the scenes we have been planning our own pedigree flock with a local shepherdess and visited breeders. We are also speaking to a fellow organic farmer about breeding stock of Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. Plenty to keep us busy.
Today is about apples. Pruning, thinning and orchard grass cutting. It's never ending. Until next time.