Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Honey Monster

Have I told you how amazing honey bees are? If you’re not convinced, get hold of a copy of “The Buzz About Bees” and then tell try telling me they’re not one the most incredible creatures on the planet. As my first full season as a “beek” (that’s cool geek speak for beekeeper) draws to a close, I have a new found respect for the honey bee and as daft as it sounds I’m really rather fond of my colonies. It may come as a surprise to those who have the misfortune of hearing my frequent wails and tales of woe (most notably my long suffering husband, parents and parents-in-law), but I’m glad I persevered, and just a little proud of myself for doing so as over the year the rollercoaster ride of beekeeping has seen rather more dips than rises (unless you count the financial investment in bees & kit, in which case it’s a ride with a rise to leave the Blackpool Pepsi Big One in the shade!). There has been many an occasion when the words “give up” have loomed large in my mind, but each time those words teeter on the tip of my tongue, ready to drop as the next disaster befalls a colony, wiser beeks than I insist there are good times ahead. And they were right.

My first colony has weathered some serious bad times. First there was the flood (my grasp of basic physics failed me and I inverted the feeder of sugar syrup over the open hive without waiting for the vacuum to form). Then there was the famine (as I was safe & dry indoors during 2 weeks of heavy summer rain, the colony ate it’s way through all the honey stores & were on the verge of dying of starvation). Then, after the colony pulled through and made it through another long cold winter, all hell broke loose after summer turned up in April, the swarming began, I flapped & faffed and the colony ends up without a queen! No queen, no eggs, no brood, no new bees. Whoopsie. A wise beek came to my rescue, yet again, and lo the colony proves it will not be beaten by inexperience, incompetence, neglect and stupidity. How do I thank them for being so marvellous? I steal their honey!

Give them fields of rosebay willow herb and clover, and let them work their bee magic …

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… sticky hands, sticky arms, sticky everywhere, spin the extractor & out it flies …


…. my oh my, such delicious, glorious, golden honey. Thank you muchly my fuzzy, buzzy critters.

As I swirl this deliciousness on hot buttered toast I feel a twinge of guilt. I’ve never felt guilt over honey eating before. But then up until now I’ve never really appreciated the effort that goes into its production, the miles flown, the energy expended in maintaining hive temperature at just the right level as another Welsh summer lives up to expectations. I feel sadness as well as guilt, for as the end of the nectar flow draws nigh and the bees strive to bring in those last drops to replace stolen stores, my beek rollercoaster plummets down another dip because evil doers await my bees – the wasps descend. Last week, colony 3, my apple tree swarm, was overrun with the yellow peril. I rushed to their aid with jars of jammy water to distract the wasps from the scent of honey. Within hours the jars were awash with drowning wasps, but still they came. Having all but wiped out colony 3, the wasps drifted over to colonies 1 and 2. I’ve squished the wasps with my hive tool. I’ve cursed them. I’ve emptied jar after jar of jam into wasp traps. I’ve washed hundreds of wasp bodies down the stream. Yet still my poor bees are besieged. I fear the worst but dare not open the hives for making the situation worse. Fight bees, fight!

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