It felt ridiculous looking out the window in April and seeing fields covered in winter snow and trees naked and still dormant. The cold weather dragged on and all the life slept on, with dwindling reserves. Even the St Mark’s fly got confused, emerging from the ground by some hidden signal for a brief day or two of hanging about and looking for mates. The flies appeared, on mass, a full two weeks after the expected time; St Mark’s day.
Now that the green has finally poured over the land I can begin again the rhythm of keeping the bees. I don’t see myself as a beekeeper, I simply see the bees as a wonderful part of the life here at the cottage. If I am to tell the truth I should probably have started looking at the bees weeks ago, as swarm season officially started at the beginning of May. I think I took a calculated risk by leaving a full inspection until today. A week ago I opened them up just to take a peek in and see how many frames they covered; much less than this time last year. Today I put the suit on, fired up the smoker, and dived in. I even spoke to them for the first time ever. I have read that it is a very old custom to talk to the bees. In folklore this is taken to the extreme of actually making sure to tell the bees of important family events and news. Talking to the bees is said to calm them. I can see some truth in this if it calms the beekeeper. The bees can smell fear. If there is any nervousness in the keeper’s decorum or movement, the bees respond with their own nervousness and I have found that this can lead to unhappy inspections.
Today the bees were calm. As I discovered last year, this queen gives rise to a very calm and controlled hive. The inspection was a joy, the bees are rapidly expanding, the queen was spotted and there were no queen cells. There were a couple of play cups, one with an egg in it, but no obvious signs of swarming. With the sweet smell of the smoker’s burning straw in the air, I closed up the hive and just watched them come and go for a while. Then I pottered around the garden for a bit until a cherry blossom tree caught my ear. The whole tree hummed with honeybees. I even spotted a humble bee or two mixing in with the excitement. So, I stood and watched for a while as the thick smell of cherries, even though there were only potential cherries, joined the noise in the air.
Later I found myself doing a more unconventional beekeeping job. I unpacked the top trays of the deep freeze so that I could haul a bit of a beehive out of the depths of the freezer. I lifted out a ‘super’ to let it defrost in time to put it on the hive in the evening. With the job of placing a super on the hive comes the prospect of the summer, and even the autumn harvest of distilled cherry blossom.