We’re into January and it’s wild and windy. Storms urge on the rain and frosts strengthen the cold. On some days the sky is covered in a grey blanket and on other days it is crystal blue.
At the apiary the green netting that separates the bees from the communal area had almost fallen down. The shape of hives seen through a veil of hazy sunshine was enchanting, but there was tea and a panna cotta cake on the table.
I love spending a Saturday afternoon at Ealing apiary. It is like a pocketful of country life with beekeepers sharing stories about winter bees and swopping homemade recipes for jams and, in particular, marmalades.
Elsa was going to Greenford market to forage for Seville oranges and she got a good tip from John on using up frames of crystallised honey: “It’s all good for marmalade”.
But the shorter daylight hours in January means beekeepers have less time to stand around and chat, and those beguiling bees were waiting for us, behind the curtain in the fading sun.
Beekeepers have few tasks for January but they are important. First, we unwrapped the chicken wire from the hives and checked under the roofs. Emily and I had put on a second block of fondant on each hive two weeks ago. Melissa’s and Pepper’s bees had made a hole in theirs, but Chili’s and Chamomile’s bees were slower eaters. The heat coming off the crownboards was remarkable and reassuring. We could see and feel that our bees are warm and well-fed.
I hefted the weight of each hive and put in a varroa board to monitor for levels of mite infestation next week, and Emily checked the entrances were clear of debris and dead bodies. Entrances sometimes get blocked and make it difficult for bees to come and go on cleansing flights or pollen-collecting.
That done, we wrapped up the hives in chicken wire again to prevent hungry woodpeckers from pecking at the wood. I’m sure any local woodpeckers have easier treats to find than tasty bee colonies in this mild winter, but better to be safe than sorry.
While the wintry weather is setting in, the snowdrops on the ground and the green buds in the trees whisper that spring is fast approaching.
The next few weekends will be about clearing out and mending old hive boxes, making up new frames, cleaning kit and getting fresh record cards for the year’s work ahead. I suspect the bees will be coming out of winter soon.