I arrived at the apiary one sunny Saturday afternoon to see a forlorn-looking Emily sitting on the bench under the awning. ‘I have some bad news,’ she said. I feared the worst – our hive had become the latest colony to be struck down by some nasty disease. ‘I didn’t make the frames for our new brood box, because I didn’t have the right nails.’ Phew. Mightily relieved that Queen Rose and her ladies-in-waiting were fine, I waved my hand and said breezily, ‘Oh, don’t worry, the two of us can make up the frames now in half the time.’ Oh, how naive.
What they don’t tell you when you become a beekeeper is that you need to become a carpenter as well. With the best will in the world, I will never be good at putting pieces of wood together and hammering. The hive hardware is the hardest part of beekeeping, only closely followed by knowing what to do when you find a queen cell – as I am sure my hive partner would agree.
Fortunately, there are many learned beekeepers at our apiary who are always willing to help. I have a theory that the more beardy the beekeeper is, the more wise and learned he becomes. John lent Emily his pen knife to cut the sheets of wax foundation to fit the frames. You usually need to trim about 1/2 centimetre off one side of the foundation to make it fit.
However, it was a very hot day and the wax was not cooperating. Emily and I soon drew a small crowd of beekeepers to watch our ‘How not to make frames’ workshop. I had particular difficulty with one nail that refused to go in straight and accidentally snapped it in half. Cliff thought it would be hilarious to pretend the nail had flown in his eye and blinded him. Quickly realising us girls did not find this as amusing, he retreated.
Exhausted by our efforts, Emily and I decided to take a break for tea and finish our last few frames after refreshments. Beekeeping is a front. We are really the Ealing & District Tea Drinkers Association. Elsa brought a cake baked by her friend – that cream filling really was as scrumptious as it looks. Five minutes later there were only crumbs and much licking of fingers.
A design student, Zachary, was visiting the apiary and showed us the photos he had taken a few weeks ago – capturing some rare beekeeping activities. We all agreed they were very good. However, John had other ideas. ‘You look like you are dressed for war,’ he said. ‘What you want is photos of these young girls [he pointed at Emily and me] holding a frame of bees without all that get-up.’
That decided, John marched to our hive without suit or smoker, and Zak, Emily and me followed meekly behind.
This is what happened next.
Our normally mild-mannered bees stormed out of the hive and flew at John’s beard. I think they objected to the beardiness – they are used to seeing our neatly veiled faces.
But John is not one to give up easily – he is, of course, the queen’s beekeeper. Ignoring our outraged ladies, he handed a frame of brood and gentle nurse bees to Emily and me. This is the photo Zak took – at a distance – with my new pink Lumix camera. That’s Emily on the left in the blue top and me on the right.
Our bees really are very gentle and we didn’t get stung. A little later on, we finished making our frames. I couldn’t resist a little beekeeper-baiting by remarking to Pat and John how much easier it is to buy ready-made frames from Thornes.
Double-brood box on and we were finished for the day. Another productive afternoon’s beekeeping.