I’ve started a new monthly blog over at the excellent Hackney Citizen. I’m focusing on all aspects of gardening but with an emphasis at the moment on gardening for wildlife as I think this is what we need to put our efforts into – along with protecting and promoting green spaces. My first column was inspired by the frightening reports of the crash in insect numbers in the last 30 years. Once they’ve gone, we’re up the creek. You can read the article here
Last night I dreamt that I’d taken our newly installed hive to my childhood home and removed the hive roof to expose the frames. I hadn’t smoked the hive first, so the bees weren’t terribly happy and were buzzing manically around the bedroom that I’d shared with my younger sister.
I knew I shouldn’t have taken them there. If you transport a colony of bees, it takes them a while to work out where their new home is. If you move a hive – unless it’s just a few feet – the bees that are out foraging will never find their way home. Using a mix of pheromones and waggle dances, the bees ‘talk’ to each other – communicating everything from ‘the queen is happy and laying’, to where to find the best forage and ‘this is where we live now’.
Back to the dream then: I had to tell the other members of my family to take care and especially to avoid the sort of arm-waving that you’d normally associate with seeing a load of angry bees buzzing about. The next thing to happen in this nightmare scenario where I had no control over anything, was that the bees swarmed – half the hive just took off and hung, in a buzzing cluster – off the stair rail. I didn’t know what to do…
Thankfully, as in all the best dreams, our bee teacher, Ian, showed up with his smoker. First he calmly captured the swarm – experienced bee-handlers simply tap the cluster into a box and transport them to their new home. Then puffed the smoker over the hive. Smoking has the effect of confusing the guard bees’ receptors so that they can’t alert, and so panic, the rest of the colony. Once smoked, the bees inside the hive started gorging on honey; this is in anticipation of moving to a new hive if threatened by, say, a forest fire, and induces a sort of post-prandial torpor.
‘So what was that all about then, oh dream interpreter?’
A standard anxiety dream, I’d say. I’m a new beekeeper, a child in the world of beekeeping. We’ve only just got our hive and colony at Cordwainers and, on delivery, Ian told me that the bees weren’t entirely happy with their queen. Who knows why? And, more importantly for me, who knows what to do? I did a hive inspection the following weekend and thought that the queen had, in fact, already done a moonlight flit. Ian came to take a look and confirmed it, advising that we needed to allow the bees to make themselves a new queen. Clever things, bees. They take an egg from an ordinary cell, pop it in a newly made ‘queen cell’, feed it royal jelly and, Bob’s your uncle… a new queen.
Another worry for our colony is the weather – so much rain has meant that the poor bees haven’t been able to get out enough to collect pollen and nectar to feed the brood and make stores for winter. As we get closer to the summer solstice, when the queen’s laying starts to slow down, it’s possible that the colony won’t be strong enough to survive the winter. Having spoken to other beekeepers, there are any number of such events that can affect the survival of a colony. This is just the start…
So, it’s our first beehive and it’s tough to consider that they may not make it, but now we have them, I’ll be doing everything in my power to help them through… Jan