There is not much beekeeping to be done in mid-winter. The bees stay in and surround the queen in a cosy cluster. There are no brood, or drones, to care for. Workers may leave the hive on a warm day for a cleansing flight or to drop-off dead bodies.
The more hardier beekeepers – and Emily and me – continue to visit the apiary in winter, but this weekend had a definite bite in the air and I wondered who would turn up to drink tea. A generous-sized tupperware cake box sitting on the apiary long table was a clue that my hive partner had arrived. I found Emily and Albert wandering around the hives, and hefting a few to check the weight of food stores. It was too cold even for Albert’s or John’s bees to fly out.
I had brought a bag of bubble-wrap to insulate our hive roofs, but first we needed a cup of tea and a slice of coffee-and-walnut cake. Chat around the long table ranged from monkey-fish (inspired by the random exhibit of a Japanese merman at my work) to the question: can crocodiles climb trees? The deductive reasoning of beekeepers settled this debate, ‘Crocodiles are very good jumpers and they have long bodies,’ said Andy. ‘A croc could jump quite high and grip the trunk, and with its long mouth could reach up the tree.’ So if you get chased by a crocodile and climb up a tree, keep climbing.
After drinking tea and munching cake, we decided it was time to bubble-wrap our bees. First, we visited Rosemary’s hive to put a layer of bubble-wrap inside the roof. We startled, and were startled by, a bee who flew up from the entrance. She may have been a vigilant guard bee disturbed by the movements in the roof, but she looked equally surprised to see us mid-flight and flew past so quickly that I think the little lady was desperate for a cleansing flight.
Next we visited Lavender’s hive and a heft test reassured us that our baby hive has enough food stores. We insulated this hive with bubble wrap too. Emily had already padded the roofs of both hives with jiffy bags, and this, with a layer of bubble-wrap, should keep our ladies nice and toasty.
Bees can heat the hive extremely well themselves and you can feel the heat that they generate if you hold your hand over a hole in the crownboard. But as Thomas reminded us, ‘Insulating the hive is the least that you can do for your bees in winter.’ Condensation and damp is more a problem for bees than cold, but the open mesh floor of modern hives provides enough ventilation.
Winter is a great time for beekeepers to catch-up on their reading, attend meetings, clean and mend equipment, and to keep up with tea drinking. In about three months, there will be plenty of beekeeping to do.