I went this morning to meet my new apprentice, Sammy (presumably short for Samantha) in Weymouth. I have met her only once before, at a BKA apiary meeting. We headed for Portland and I warned her, if questioned by a Portlander, not to admit that she comes from Weymouth as there is some local prejudice. But it’s ok as she has been there before and knows the drill and even has a relative on the Island.
Sammy has recently finished a course at the local agricultural college and likes playing with animals of all sorts. Soon she is off to a cheetah sanctuary in South Africa for a few weeks. She hasn’t much experience with bees yet, though and had never been stung. Her Mother insists that she wears gloves and supplied a pair of gardening gloves. Her birthday (19) present had been a bee-suit, which looked pristine and white for a short while.
The wind was blowing strong and cold with occasional spatterings of rain. Temperature was a balmy 9.5C, compared with the 7.5 inland where I had seen bees (and wasps!) flying earlier at hives. I put on my washing up gloves (never used for that purpose!) decanted some syrup into a jam jar and sucked up into the syringe what I guessed would be sufficient for the 2 hives on that site, poured the surplus syrup back into the cider flagon, labelled with a skull and crossbones and the advice that the contents were poisonous. We suited up and checked that Sammy was bee-proof.
The hives were quiet with little activity until we opened them. The first hive was not large, having 5 seams of bees to which I administered 25cc of oxalic solution, the second larger with 6. We could see that there were plenty of sealed stores in each. After demonstrating the drill I passed the syringe to Sammy. We soon found that a gap appeared between glove and wrist which, of course was investigated by a bee. Both Sammy and the bee kept their heads. I got a few stings though as a couple of bees went up my trouser leg and one on my back where the skin had been exposed when I bent over. After that I remembered to tuck myself in! Bees seemed to be very interested in Sammy’s new suit and I wonder whether there might be an aroma in the new fabric. Sammy wasn’t wearing scent. We’ll see what it’s like after a wash – by now it was getting muddy!
On to the next apiary on the Incline Community Gardens and Orchard. This is a project situated on the upper parts of Underhill where the dastards from Tophill can’t lob stones at them. Portland isn’t known as the Isle of Slingers for nothing! There is little love between the inhabitants of Underhill and of Tophill but they unite in their hatred of Weymouthians. The new ‘Keep Portland Weird’ stickers are now to be found everywhere!
I found that I couldn’t find my hive tool, probably having left it on a hive, so thereafter I used my Swiss Army Hive Tool. The first hive we looked at, a National, is very prosperous and it is possible that we might be able to harvest some more honey when spring flowers abound and we know how much of their winter store is surplus. We don’t feed sugar and so know that it will be real honey and not re-cycled Tate & Lyle.
Then we left the Island for a supermarket to get Sammy some washing up gloves that would bridge the gap at the wrist and then proceeded to an apiary in a holiday camp where the company gets ‘Greenie points’ (the environmental equivalent of Brownie points) for having a wild flower meadow with bees on it. As reported in an earlier blog, the bees here haven’t read the books. The first one were in the top of several boxes, the queen having, in the autumn, found her way above the excluder. The second was more conventionally arranged, but, in peeling off the queen excluder, we managed to destroy some brood.
Sammy somehow contrived to get her very first sting – on the neck, despite her very bee-proof suit. Maybe the bee had crept in during one of the occasions when the suit was taken off. When we got back to the car, Sammy remarked that she wasn’t allergic. I corrected her: she is allergic – that’s how stings work, but not dangerously so as would be demonstrated by anaphyllactic shock which would leave her horizontal and me dialling 999.
Onwards and outwards away from Weymouth via country lanes to Litton Cheney where I have my top bar hive with the smiley face at Ourganics. There was pheasant shooting in the next field and we and the owner, Pat, were concerned at the fall of shot onto polytunnel, cars and us. The bees here are also doing well and, again I might take a crop at dandelion/willow blossom time. It was from this hive that I took a comb to feed to the school children recently.
By now it was sunset and so I returned Sammy home. I enjoyed our time with the bees and I hope she did too.