Our hives survived December’s wind and rain, while John and I spent Christmas at his family’s farm in frosty but sunny Hereford. The first Saturday in January, we went to the apiary in the afternoon and found a small crowd huddling around tea and Clare’s gingerbread men and women. Emily was then stranded at Drew’s family home in Cornwall due to floods.
The pink- and blue-iced gingerbread people looked very tempting, but I was keen to see our hives were still standing after the storms that had torn across the UK. They were. John watched as I hefted Myrtle’s hive, which was too heavy to heave, and Chamomile’s and Chili’s hives, which also felt a good weight of stores and bees.
Winter checks include looking into the entrance to make sure it isn’t blocked by dead bees. You would expect more dead bees at the entrance and lying in front of the hive in winter. Workers can get cold and weak even in the cosy warmth of the cluster, and a few may fall to the bottom of the hive and die. Of course, a whole pile of dead bees on the floor might be something to worry about.
Undertaker duty is a bit neglected in winter, when poor weather prevents flights or the workers may not have enough energy to carry dead bodies away from the hive. So it falls to the beekeeper to gingerly poke a stick through the holes in the mouseguard and tease out any dead bodies, so they don’t pile up and block the entrance.
I was wearing my full suit and veil to do this, despite mocking from some bearded beekeepers, because bees don’t take kindly to sticks being poked in the hive in winter, or, incidentally, at night. I wanted to avoid an indignant guard charging out and stinging my eye.
Hives heaved and entrances cleared, we went back to the apiary table for tea and gingerbread. Clare mentioned the apiary was showing Swiss filmmaker Markus Imhoof’s documentary More Than Honey the following Saturday. I had already watched the film over Christmas, a surprise gift from John. This led to lively debate. More Than Honey contains both incredible and disturbing scenes of bees and beekeeping around the world. I’m writing a review on my blog towards the end of this month, although I may not be able to include some comments made at the apiary about the pollination industry. If you can’t wait till then, Emily has written a thoughtful review on her blog.
There was a good turn out of Ealing beekeepers talking about their bees and buying oxalic acid. Sara, of lovely homesteading blog Hen Corner, was chatting to Elsa about great posts she has written recently on the pig process. Thomas, who was conferring with Jonesy about bee matters, has also started a blog about bees and life on the river.
Eventually, we all drifted away from the apiary and back to our other lives.
There are so many things to do in winter like visit the Chelsea Physic Garden’s snowdrop days, coming soon, or the Natural History Museum’s (NHM) Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, now on.
John and I went to NHM with friends last weekend to see this year’s gallery of astounding wildlife photography. My favourite was this picture of two grumpy-looking bedraggled lions in the rain. I know how they feel!
Invertebrates seemed rather under-represented, I’m thinking of entering bee photos to the next competition – entry details here. So come on all you Hymenoptera and other invertebrate people! Let’s not have the tiny animals forgotten!
Lovely photos. Wish I could have been there for the gingerbread!
Looking forward to finding out what baked goods there were this weekend Emily! 🙂
Ah – unfortunately I was invited to a tea party in south-east London, so didn’t end up going to see the bees. Next weekend I will 🙂
A tea party? Just a regular Saturday afternoon then… 😉
Glad that your bees are a good weight Emma and also good to check the entrance. Just hope there was not too many casualties. I think I managed the last gingerbread.
Only four casualties Thomas, although that is sad, as every bee is a loved bee!
EST, I think your umbrella more than compensates for a bit of rain. Removing the little dead bees is rather more sombre, though. Happy 2014 to you! RH
It’s Cath Kidston! If only Cath Kidston did beehives, that would cheer our winter bees RH 😉
Glad to hear your bees are doing well. I was able to go to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year last year and I enjoyed it immensely, my only tiny reservation was the same as yours – an under representation of invertebrates. A good challenge for your for this year!
The photography is always inspiring as are the stories behind each picture, although it would be good to include more insect stories!
Don’t let them deter you from wearing your suit. You never know when one of those mandamus will get cranked up!
Yes exactly! Those naughty bearded beekeepers!
Stupid predictive text! I meant ‘madams’ of course. But the bee suit might keep those bearded beekeepers away as well…
Really lovely photos!