Friday, 15 October 2010

My Big Society

Stuff the coalition, two fingers to Red Ed, come the next election I’m voting for the honeybees to take over the running of the country. Instead of Dave’s (as in Cameron not Pickworth) “Big Society” we’ll have “The Big Colony”. There’s a queen, the males are only good for one thing & collapse & die after that, the females do all the work … so far, so normal. OK, so there are some downsides, like the fact that most of us will only live for 30 days, but everyone will have a job and somewhere to live, and there’s a 24 hour all-you-can-eat honey buffet. Bees are great, that’s all there is to it.

As some of you know, last month I had a bee related disaster. My colony was on the brink of collapse. The likely cause was starvation. How guilty did that make me feel?! Thousands and thousands of little buzzy lives were relying on me, and I let them down, but who’d have thought that in two weeks of bad weather a whole colony could work its way through its honey stores, leaving themselves with nothing to feed themselves or their brood. The poor queen stopped laying. At the start of September much of the colony had died, there were no eggs or larvae and not a drop of honey or a speck of pollen left. Needless to say there were tears and much self-recrimination.

There was not a moment to lose, “feed, feed, feed”, advised the Bee Inspector. Twenty kilos of sugar and 8.5 litres of water later, and my amazing little colony has restored itself, winter brood is hatching and the foraging bees have been out and about collecting replacement nectar and pollen. Today we saw a bee staggering up to the hive entrance dragging along its bulging sacs of bright orange pollen, like a shopper heading home after the winter sales. A last minute flurry on a Michaelmas daisy perhaps?

So it’s time for final preparations before the bees settle down for their long winter sleep. The hive roof is insulated, the final feed is being guzzled and the mouse guard to ready to be screwed over the hive entrance. The key question is whether the bees now have stores of honey to last until March. They say that an experienced “beek” just has to heft the back of the hive to know instantly the precise weight of honey stores. It seems to me that hefting is a risky business. An overly hearty heft could launch the whole hive into the hedge. I hefted my hive with caution. As a beek of a mere 4 month’s experience my assessment of the weight of honey stores was “bloody heavy”. Lacking a “bloody heavy” to kilos conversion chart I’m thinking of using my own measuring system by estimating the hive weight based on equivalent number of Charlies, with each Charlie equating to 7 kilos. He’s a whole lot of cat!

Anyway, I shall leave you with an interesting fact picked up at last week’s meeting of my local Welsh Bee Keepers Association (a monthly mid-week autumn evening highlight on the Lampeter social calendar). During winter a shrew will climb into a hive, pick off individual sleepy bees from the edge of the colony cluster and precisely nibble just the bee’s furry thorax to snack on the energy packed muscles used by the bee as it beats it’s wings to regulate the hive temperature. The shrew equivalent to a Kellogg’s Special K yoghurt coated snack bar!

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