It was a lovely day for beekeeping. I drove to Frogmore, an organic farm a couple of miles away, to give my hive there its first inspection. No smoker. I had it yesterday, I know I did. A long drive to Ourganics at Litton retraced my steps. My Top Bar Hive was smiling at me, bees flying in and out of the mouth, but the smoker wasn’t next to it. Neither was it by the ladies’ compost loo or gents’ straw bale. The students were having their lunch at the long table by the fire pit and I was reluctant to interrupt them, but I was spotted by Kate who dived into the shed and presented me with the smoker which had, indeed, been left by the loo.
The journey had been interrupted by a phone call from Annie Freud who was concerned that my hive at her place was too quiet. That had been the next place on my list anyway so I went there next. She was right. They were dead. There was a heap under the floor but very few dead bees in the hive. I cut out all the old, bred in, comb, leaving a footprint for the next-comers and also cut out what amounted to several pounds of honey for Annie to extract by warming and squeezing, turning the remainder into flapjack following the recipe to be found on this blog if you scroll back a few months.
Thence to Long Ash. The hive that I had emptied of dead leaves a week ago and replaced the entrance block was now full of dead leaves and the entrance block removed. I removed the leaves and replaced the entrance block, now wedged firmly in place with a whittled twig. The hive next door was apparently healthy but few in numbers and stores. However, there is a field of oilseed rape under a quarter of a mile away so they should be able to improve their lot.
Back to square one: the hive had fresh stores but almost none capped so they need this good weather to continue for a while to give them a margin in case it turns nasty for a while. I found the queen and marked her. That’s 2 in March: I think that’s a record for me.
On the way back home I called in at White Sheet Hill, the old chalk pit and quarry where I re-visited the stalactite factory in the lime kilns and ascended the hill to chill out for a while. Primroses and cowslips are a-flower but it will be a couple of months before the orchids take over. It’s a lovely spot there with wide views to the south and east. Unfortunately for the beekeeper, they show large areas of the brown earth of industrial agriculture: no good for bees at all. Nor, come to that, other insects, which means no fodder for insect eating birds. Swallows will be here in a couple of weeks. What will they eat apart from my bees?