On Saturday 14th February I saw the white snowdrops in flower and the purple crocuses opening. Winter aconite and catkins of the hazel and the willow will also blossom bringing the year’s first forage for bees.
Ealing beekeepers were at the scout hut for their monthly meeting. I stood outside the entrance of the hives and noticed not a single bee took to the wing. The stillness made all other movements sharper.
I watched a red-breasted robin hopping in the thorny foliage and breathed as a magpie swooped down to pick a twig to build her nest.
I found a spider crawling on the fondant under the roof of a hive and two slugs sliding in the dead leaves beneath the floor of another.
Alan Gibbs arrived just as I had put under varroa boards to check this month’s mite drop. He had come with his spade on this cold, rainy day to lay more paving stones in the communal area. Betty Gibbs was sensibly waiting in the car outside the apiary, reading a book.
We then looked at the fondant under the roofs. I had brought more in case it was needed, but Alan said they had “quite enough”.
A chilly February can be a time of uncertainty for beekeepers with thoughts of wakeful bees kept inside the hive as the winter larder runs bare. I gave each hive a heft for weight of stores. In particular Melissa’s and Pepper’s were very heavy, while Chili’s and Chamomile’s were lighter. Nothing to do but observe, February is also a time to rest and wait as everything unfolds.
With that, I said goodbye to Alan and the bees, and waved to Betty on my way out. John too was sensibly waiting for me in a warm car. There were flowers, cards and chocolates sitting at home.
This is a short and sweet post like the month.
Emily and I have decided to use paper records for our hives again. Our blogs provide an online diary of beekeeping, and I’ve found electronic records or apps sometimes difficult to access or just fiddly to use on my phone during a hive inspection. Also, it seems better to keep records under the hive roofs at the apiary, in case other beekeepers need to read them.
Here’s a start on preparing our hive record sheets for the season ahead, based on others we have used and ideas for monthly reminders. Let me know in your comments if there’s anything you would include, I’d be interested to know how to improve them:
And a note on something less practical and more frilly… Sometimes there is snow in February, which makes me remember my favourite passage from The Snow Queen, A Tale is Seven Stories, by Hans Christian Andersen.
In the second story about a little boy and a little girl, Kay and Gerda sit by frozen windows to watch the snowstorm. They lay heated copper farthings on the windowpane to make a peep-hole to look outside…
”Look! The white bees are swarming,” said the old grandmother. “Have they a queen bee, too?” asked the little boy, for he knew that there was a queen among the real bees. “Yes, indeed they have,” said the grandmother. “She flies where the swarm is thickest. She is biggest of them all, and she never remains on the ground. She always flies up again to the sky. Many a winter’s night she flies through the streets and peeps in at the windows, and then the ice freezes on the panes into wonderful patterns like flowers.”
“Oh yes, we have seen that,” said both children, and then they knew it was true.
“Can the Snow Queen come in here?” asked the little girl.
“Just let her come,” said the boy, “and I will put her on the stove, where she will melt.”
But the grandmother smoothed his hair and told him more stories.
In the evening when little Kay was at home and half undressed, he crept up on to the chair by the window, and peeped out of the little hole. A few snowflakes were falling, and one of these, the biggest, remained on the edge of the window-box. It grew bigger and bigger, till it became the figure of a woman, dressed in the finest white gauze, which appeared to be made of millions of starry flakes. She was delicately lovely, but all ice, glittering, dazzling ice. Still she was alive, her eyes shone like two bright stars, but there was no rest or peace in them. She nodded to the window and waved her hand. The little boy was frightened and jumped down off the chair, and then he fancied that a big bird flew past the window.
The next day was bright and frosty, and then came the thaw—and after that the spring.”
A beekeeper’s notes
A beekeeper’s notes for January